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DOCSIS

Cable MSOs Preach Capacity Over Speed

In the race to deliver blazing hot speeds, cable is setting up Docsis 3.0 as its latest weapon. But speed might not be what really matters, according to some MSOs in attendance at Docsis 3.0 Strategies: From Product Development to Deployment.

"Think a little bit about speed versus capacity, and maybe we're just barking up the wrong tree when we keep saying 150, 250, 450 [Mbit/s], whatever it is. It's a ridiculous number," said Douglas Semon, vice president of technologies and standards for Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). "What do our customers really want? We're going to find out. I personally don't think it's about speed wars, I think it's about capacity."

Semon maintains that the FiOS-like idea of delivering 100 Mbit/s to a customer is crazy, because an extremely small percentage of users would have a need for such speed. But by increasing capacity using Docsis 3.0, you have something every customer could appreciate: bandwidth that will not slow down. Consumers' connections might not go faster, but they'll get less of the congestion that slows them down to frustrating levels.

But if a minimal number of customers care about higher speeds, why are a significant number of them fleeing cable for the faster speeds of FTTH telco services like FiOS? (See Verizon Leads the Great 100-Mbit/s Bandwidth Race and Verizon Spells Out 100 Mbit/s.)

"This would be a really good chance to insult all our customers wouldn't it?" said Semon. "Has anyone ever really explained what this means to the end user? It's one of those things where you assume that, oh, faster is better, so I'll switch."

Semon went on to suggest that early on, customers perhaps aren't educated on what a higher speed would actually accomplish, and that they're giving into the marketing claim that faster is by default better. But he maintained that if the economics of the market eventually dictate that speed is king, then Docsis 3.0 can play that game with cable bonding and other tweaks to the network.

The question remains, though, over how much cable will have to dilute its speed through node splits. Cable operators here wouldn’t say how many node splits they have planned for Docsis 3.0, but they did offer alternatives to the problem, such as spectrum jiggling and again, cable bonding.

"We'd like to avoid node splits wherever we can, because they are expensive and they are disruptive to the end user service," Semon said. "I personally believe the driver for a node split shouldn't be just one service like high speed data. It should be holistic. If you need more capacity for any of those services, you should jiggle around the service group in that spectrum, not split the node. But when all of them become congested, then I think it's justifiable to do a node split."

"We're typically dual-fit lasers to nodes that are on an average of 500 homes," offered Joseph Jenson, executive vice president and CTO for Buckeye CableSystem . "Over the last 18 months I'd say downstream has become a real issue for us, and it's becoming an issue of: Do you address that in the spectrum or node splits? It's a difficult situation either way. We do see bonding as being able to father some additional efficiencies."

But as they tweak their networks to bring higher speeds to their customers, the question remains: Do they even know how much speed their customers really want? Some MSOs suggested that they don't, and that the customers don't know either.

"A lot of it is about marketing," said Phil Colby, vice president of technology for Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY). "It's about customer perception as to what they're getting and what they're paying for it -- and I could probably insult our customers as well. They see the speeds that are being marketed and compare that to the price they're paying, and that's what makes them switch."

John Coppola, director of access technology and engineering at Cox Communications Inc. , agreed: "It's purely marketing perception today."

So while phone companies like Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) say their customers will eventually want unlimited speeds, cable MSOs are saying that they'll never need that bandwidth. But given the fact that customers are giving into the marketing aspect of higher bandwidth, cable is being forced to try to catch up anyway.

— Raymond McConville, Reporter, Light Reading

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ozip 12/5/2012 | 3:45:11 PM
re: Cable MSOs Preach Capacity Over Speed 7 sounds like the "cable speak" these guys converse in. Speed meaning the provisioned rate a subscriber gets and capacity meaning total available bandwidth of the system the subscriber is connected to.

OZIP
spelurker 12/5/2012 | 3:45:11 PM
re: Cable MSOs Preach Capacity Over Speed >how arrogant of these folks to "know" users will never need 100Mbps [...]
> so how do these managers have a clue about anything?

I don't think they are saying their customers will never need 100Mbps, just that 100M is well beyond what most of them need now. As far as how much of a clue they have, many of them probably have a pretty good clue, since they know what their actual utilization is on their current links. (If users on the less-crowded net segments don't burst to near the wire capacity, then fattening that pipe is useless since the bottleneck is closer to the content sites).

Think about your own usage -- getting email is negligible (and probably throttled by your local antivirus), any broadband web access is typically pretty snappy. YouTube is generally limited by the source quality. TV-quality video is generally compressed down to ~2Mbps. If you get >4Mbps, the only time you notice the net is if you are downloading files. (and those are usually source-limited too.)

So they are all going to move to DOCSIS 3.0, and they will all offer 100Mbps service, but they know it's BS, because people can't really use it.

The DSL guys have sort-of mapped out some ground here. They figure if they can get to ~20 or 25 Mbps (using VDSL) they can send 2 HDTV sessions to a household, and will be safe for the forseeable future even in a triple-play environment. I suspect that that is the high end of the point of diminishing returns.
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:45:11 PM
re: Cable MSOs Preach Capacity Over Speed
I am just trying to figure out what is meant by capacity. FiOS has more bandwidth in every dimension than a cable system. So, what the heck does capacity mean?

seven
materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:45:11 PM
re: Cable MSOs Preach Capacity Over Speed After all the lies about "unlimited" bandwidth (not all of which came from cable cos), how would a user trust a "big capacity" marketing tag line? How would they verify compliance? Sounds tough. Speed is easier to verify.

Separately, how arrogant of these folks to "know" users will never need 100Mbps even as they watch them switch to such a service. Users have given up demanding what they want, so how do these managers have a clue about anything?
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:45:10 PM
re: Cable MSOs Preach Capacity Over Speed
Again, since FiOS has more capacity....I go what da heck over?

seven
Raymond McConville 12/5/2012 | 3:45:10 PM
re: Cable MSOs Preach Capacity Over Speed I am just trying to figure out what is meant by capacity. FiOS has more bandwidth in every dimension than a cable system. So, what the heck does capacity mean?

They likened it to a three lane highway where everyone is traveling 60mph. Docsis 3.0 in a way would widen it to a six lane highway where everyone is still traveling 60mph except its much less likely we'll all have to slow down as we add more cars on the highway.

It is absolutely marketing mumbo jumbo
Frank 12/5/2012 | 3:45:09 PM
re: Cable MSOs Preach Capacity Over Speed Re: "So what the heck does capacity mean?"

It's a nonsense pitch, IMO, motivated by a position that is securely ensconced behind an 8-ball.

Several times throughout the article one of the MSO principals used the term "capacity" as if to imply "staying power", or the sustainability of throughput at the rated level, as opposed to (I suppose) the telcos' providing super-high speeds, at first, which quickly degrade to a "frustratingly" lower level due to congestion.
OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 3:45:09 PM
re: Cable MSOs Preach Capacity Over Speed As pointed out while FIOS, and even current Cable cos, provide more speed than can be used. But BW conflicts are encountered, such as P2P, and therefore the advertise speed is not delivered.

Like 7 I don't understand how MSOs will deliver more capacity than VZ. My TWC does experience times with heavy capacity drops to and from my site. As an Old telecom guy I'm a bit overly sensitive to poor service delivery.

To me the big question though is how does a typical customer know when the delivery capacity is down? After all it is caused by many hidden inadequacies within the network not visible to the customer.

So maybe it is Marketing Mumbo Jumbo MG. But I do expect delivered speed (capacity), not line speed, to become more of an issue as BW is filled further.
ThurstonHowell3rd 12/5/2012 | 3:45:08 PM
re: Cable MSOs Preach Capacity Over Speed First - nice analogy but I hate NASCAR... HOW BOUT A RIGHT TURN FOR GOD'S SAKE.

Now here's the deal Gilligan - Its disconcerting when someone high up at a major MSO can be so wrong footed... Capacity and Speed - come on!!! One is the number of bits the other is the rate at which the bits are transmitted. We've had OCn sized capacity links for years (a la SONET) - but the reality is the last mile has been and will continue to be a constraint. Your only as fast as your weakest link.

While these telcom wizards are waving their arm about capacity - has anyone done the math as to what the core will look like when the network ingress surpasses 25Mb to 100Mb downstream? I think the phrase "orders of magnitude" comes to mind.

Lastly I have to commend the wizard MSO exec you quoted in your article - assuming customers won't use 100 Mb / service is a huge mistake on his part... that said DOCSIS 3.0 will allow them to maintain a very competitive position (in spite of his genius) because at the end of the day it will be how many HD streams can you pass. And while DOCSIS is rated at 30Mb it does do bonding and adds multiple service channels - which will more than offset the shear speed of FiOS.
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:45:08 PM
re: Cable MSOs Preach Capacity Over Speed
Here is the thing.

FiOS with BPON (which is what it is today) has 622/155 per 32 customers on the access loop. DOCSIS 3.0 might be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but comes nowhere close to BPON - forget GPON.

From a video perspective, downstream they are same/same...The video bandwidth on FiOS is that of a cable system.

When GPON comes out just replace the 622/155 with 2.4/1.2.

Just as an aside from a data standpoint (assuming their was no video), U-verse could blow cable away. 25M down to every customer crushes DOCSIS.

I am not trying to say that the more bandwidth has a value to the consumer today, but trying to compare DOCSIS bandwidths to PON is like talking about the fastest race horse compared to NASCAR.

seven
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